Three of Swords: Sorrow

Postmarked February 14, 1998   From Heart Butte, MT

File Photos & Concept: Julia C. Tenney
Technical Support: Daniel P. Bronson

      I had planned on The Three of Swords to be my annual Valentine's Day Greeting for 1997. However, my life conspired against me.
      Dan & I began work on this design on Sunday, January 11th, 1997; mostly looking for decent art for the composite.
      The next day, my father had emergency cardiac surgery, three operations. This seemed to make my intended "three swords in a heart" Valentine that much more appropriate, albeit potentially insensitive. Ultimately, I was unable to get the card done in time that year.
      Back then, part of me felt that I'd missed the perfect opportunity to send out the card. There I was, at the start of the infamous Saturn Return, with a timely and appropriate tragedy, and I missed my chance.
      Now, (in 1998) while still in the midst of my Saturn Return, I am glad I waited.
      I've had an extra year to meditate on the meaning of the Three of Swords, and its relationship to Saturn. I've experienced more of my Saturn Return, and can illustrate with photos taken during the experience.

Divinatory Meanings

The Three of Swords
Saturn in Virgo cusp Libra
Sorrow, Loss, Not clear, Loss or change of 3 person relationship

      I'm not quite sure about that Virgo cusp Libra part. Virgo or Libra, and often both, sometimes neither, turn up in this card. However, if the card traditionally had no association with Saturn, it does now, at least in my deck.
      So let me tell you about Saturn.
      It blows.
      It seriously blows.
      I'm quoting one of my mentors. In one of our social circles, she was also nicknamed my "Dad", (and Dan's "Mom"). She was also a coworker, a fellow writer, and very good at knocking me out of my frequent melodramatic moments.
      She was there when I was called to the hospital in January to deal with my other Dad, assuring me of the blowness of the situation.
      I was the first person she told when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. We agreed that seriously blew.
      So the three person relationship there would be me, my Dad and my "Dad". They did relate to each other, other than having a common nickname. He was her boss, as well as knowing her socially through me prior to that.
      The loss or change was, well, Dad ended up disabled, which invariably changed the dynamic of our relationship, and "Dad" died.
      As one of those terminally depressed types, one would expect I used this golden opportunity to be a tortured dramaqueen and wax poetic on the tragedy of our mortal existence, and cry at the drop of a hat when anyone was inappropriate, didn't they see what I was going through?
      Except that I had sympathy up the wazoo; tons of mail, phone calls, invitations, people capitulating to my choice of social activity without me even having to whine. I was the first to laugh at inappropriate comments and jokes because I wanted to abuse every chance to send grief on a coffee break. I was mortified when I finally broke down and cried in front of my friends. They're suffering just as much. They don't want to be reminded any more than I do. Then again, it reassures everyone that you're human.
      I begin to understand why some of the wildest parties are Wakes, and why Astrologers say that Saturn Returns are as much a time for personal growth as for loss.
      If the Three of Swords Appears in a Reading:
      It indicates the influence of a Saturn Return (or something a lot like one) in the context of the inquiry. It indicates loss and sorrow, probably involving a 3 person relationship. And it won't be the sort of loss or sorrow that could've been avoided if one or more of the parties hadn't been melodramatic, socially stupid, etc. It'll be real and obvious and beyond your control, even to the impartial onlooker.
      The advantage is that you won't wonder if maybe you've blown things out of proportion. You'll know you haven't. When things are this bad, you may be amazed at the resources of support you have, in yourself, in the people around you. People don't always shine in the midst of loss, but passing these tests of personal strength can do wonders for one's self esteem.
      Let the sorrow motivate you.

Image resources:

      The Heart depicted is from an oversized exhibit in Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. I was there in May 1997 and the original photo depicts me standing inside it. (I probably meant to use that as my Valentine this year, and then forgot about it until I started hunting for good heart images). In this reworked image, my face remains, (yeah, ok, like a fatty deposit, sigh).
      In traditional Tarot, swords are often the Suit of Air and the images depicted against Cloudy Skies. This particular sky is from Medford, Massachussetts near the end of what I now refer to as "The Roadtrip Through Uhell" in August 1997. Vehicles broke down, crashed or were stolen every step of the drive from Vermont to Georgia and back up to Medford. (Never, ever doubt the power of Mercury Retrograde, especially during your Saturn Return). At some point early on, when I figured it couldn't get worse (wrong), I began taking photos of the sky, with the intent of using them in a later art piece.
      Veering away from traditional depictions, I included a Tree when took my camera with me while jogging in the fall foliage in October 1997. I started jogging days after my father's health emergency, when I was dared to get in shape for Utica's annual 15K, The Boilermaker. (An image of me running the race was intended to be sent as my 1997 greeting. I messed that up too).
      The tree image was inverted and stylized to signify lungs & circulation, symbolic of my push to get into shape, and of the health problems of people around me.
      The Swords here are stylized plastic cocktail swords. We tried using scalpels, or actual swords, and considered plastic kitchen knives. They only muddled the image. If I need to argue the relevance of using cocktail swords, well, one could say a fair chunk of folks probably associate plastic cocktail decor with me. Monkeys, mostly. But I'm definitely the sort of person who'll start fencing when our drinks come with cocktail swords.


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Updated: October 1998